Universities sign up to 'fairer' entrance system

Colleges will not see where else students have applied, and candidates will be allowed to try for both Oxford and Cambridge
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The Independent Online

University applicants will soon no longer have to disclose their choice of institutions to rival colleges. They will also be able to apply to both Oxford and Cambridge instead of only one of the two, as at present, under reforms intended to make the entrance process fairer. .

University applicants will soon no longer have to disclose their choice of institutions to rival colleges. They will also be able to apply to both Oxford and Cambridge instead of only one of the two, as at present, under reforms intended to make the entrance process fairer. .

Under existing rules, applicants list six university choices on a form seen by all the institutions to which they apply. But university admissions officers agreed at their conference in Aberystwyth this week that in future they would make "blind" offers without knowing the names of their rivals. The changes are expected to be introduced in two or three years' time.

Universities compete fiercely for the best students and their decisions whether to make offers to applicants may be influenced by the list.

Some students who apply to Oxford or Cambridge but fail to win a place receive no offers from other universities, which decide that they do not want Oxbridge rejects.

Other applicants list one or two universities that require low A-level grades alongside several leading universities in case they do less well than they expect in their examinations. The better institutions sometimes draw the conclusion that they are weak candidates and fail to make them an offer.

Some universities are also reluctant to admit candidates who apply for different courses at different universities on the basis that they appear less committed.

A spokesman for the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) said: "We know these kinds of things happen all the time and they disadvantage applicants. This is a real breakthrough, which schools have been pressing us to introduce."

Ucas will also talk to Oxford and Cambridge about its proposals to allow applicants to list both universities. Admissions officers believe there is no justification for those universities barring applicants from including both on the same list.

A spokeswoman for Cambridge said it was an important matter for applicants but would have to be considered carefully because the university interviews far more of its applicants than others apart from Oxford. "We would almost certainly have to reconsider how we interview our candidates. It is a very labour-intensive business. If we had a 50 per cent increase in applicants we might not be able to give them as much time and interviewing as we currently do."

John Dunford, the general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said the changes were a step forward. "We have been asking for this for many years. At my school I had top-quality candidates who were devastated because they were turned down by Oxford or Cambridge and then rejected by all their other choices," he said.

"It was also grossly unfair that people were turned down for putting down different subjects for different universities."

Doug McAvoy, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said yesterday that there would be an increase in demand for action against oversize classes in secondary schools at the union's annual conference, which begins in Harrogate next week.

Figures released by the Government yesterday show that, while the number of children in classes of over 30 in primary schools was going down, class sizes in secondary schools have risen marginally.

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